Selected Sermon/Article
2010-05-07 Beyond Twelve Gates (BTG) by Rabbi Zeev Smason
Parshas Behar/Bechukosai


Beyond Twelve Gates -  Rabbi Ze'ev Smason

Parshas Behar/Bechukosai  -  May 7, 2010



Welcome to Beyond Twelve Gates.  Joe Louis, nicknamed the 'Bronx Bomber', is widely regarded as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time.  One of Louis' great rivalries was with light-heavyweight champion Billy Conn.  Conn wouldn't gain weight for his initial fight against Louis, saying instead he would rely on a "hit and run" strategy. Louis' famous response:  "He can run, but he can't hide."


Louis' well-known statement comes to mind following an incident that occurred this past week.  Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad was only moments from being free when at the last minute, agents yanked him off a Dubai-bound plane at Kennedy Airport.  In a related but somewhat different form, the Talmud (Ethics of the Fathers) says,  "Contemplate three things and you will not come to sin: Know what is above you -- an Eye that sees, an Ear that hears, and all your deeds are written, recorded in a Book."  There is a system of Divine bookkeeping.  Be it sooner or later, all accounts are settled.


The story is told that a wagon driver once passed a Yeshiva student walking.   He stopped his horse and invited the student to ride with him.  As they passed an unattended field, the wagon driver noticed some fine hay drying there, and decided he would like that hay for his horse.  As he went quickly to get the hay, he directed the student to give warning if anyone came along.   Suddenly the young man shouted, "He's watching!  He's watching!"  Startled, the wagon driver dropped the hay, ran back, clambered up the wagon and drove off at a furious pace.  When they were a safe distance from the scene of his attempted crime, he slowed the horse and caught his breath.  "Now tell me," he asked the Yeshiva student.  "Who was it that saw us?"


The student pointed toward heaven.  "The Almighty," he replied; "He sees everything, and is always watching."


Parshas Behar /Bechukosai     Leviticus 25:1 -- 27:34


Behar focuses primarily on mitzvos concerning the land of Israel, beginning with the command to observe a Sabbatical (Shemitta) year.  During the Sabbatical year one's fields are to remain uncultivated every seventh year, refraining from the normal cycle of planting and harvesting.  Similarly, the land in Israel is to remain unworked in the Jubilee (Yovel) or 50th year, at which time the ownership of all land automatically returns to its ancestral heritage.  A quote found on the Liberty Bell, "And you should sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land ..." is taken from the passage describing the Jubilee year. Behar also speaks about the poor and downtrodden.  Not only are we commanded to give them tzedaka and do acts of loving kindness for them, but ideally we are to provide them with the means to raise themselves out of their poverty-stricken state.


Bechukosai, the last Torah portion in the book of Leviticus, begins by briefly listing some of the blessings and rewards that the Jewish people will receive for diligently following the Torah.  The portion then shifts to the subject matter which has made it famous -- G-d's harsh rebuke.  Step by step, the Torah describes the tragedies which will befall the Jewish people if they abandon observance of the Torah, providing an eerie account of what has been part of our history to this day.  The book of Leviticus concludes with a brief discussion of tithes.


Rabbinic Ruminations


In what way are we created in the 'Image of G-d'?


You read the Dr. Doolittle books when you were a child.  When you were older you enjoyed Eddie Murphy's portrayal of the doctor who could speak to and understand animals in their own languages.  Meet Penelope Smith, professional animal communicator.  Penelope is the author of Animal Talk and When Animals Speak.  Her work has been featured in newspaper and magazine articles, and on radio and television in the United States and abroad.   Ms. Smith has been touted as the world's "leading teacher of interspecies telepathic communication." Do animals really talk?


There is a well-known Midrash which states that King Solomon, wisest of all men, understood the languages of the birds and animals.  And modern experts confirm that many animals communicate with each other, often in rather complex ways.  However, their speech differs from that of humans.  Animals "talk" but their topics of conversation are entirely of a physical nature -- staking out territory, attracting a mate, telling their fellow bees or ants where you just started your picnic.  Human speech, while often at least as basic, contains an entirely different dimension:  it expresses the desire of our souls. We give reality to our spiritual yearnings by putting them into words. And this is the type of speech which truly makes us human.  When we tap into those yearnings and give them expression, we both discover and develop our souls, and we mature into beings formed in the image of G-d.  


Quote of the Week


An archaeologist is the best husband any woman can have; the older she gets, the more interested he is in her --  Agatha Christie, at age 64


Joke of the Week


Rabbi Cohen and Father O'Hara enjoyed theological discussions when they went fishing.   One day the two friends were fishing on a lake near the side of a road.  They decided to make a sign saying, "The End is Near!  Turn Yourself Around Now Before It's Too Late!", and showed it to each passing car.   One driver that drove by didn't appreciate the sign and shouted at them, "Leave us alone, you religious nuts!"


All of a sudden they heard a big splash.  They looked at each other and the rabbi said to the priest, " Do you think we should just put up a sign that says 'Bridge Out' instead?"




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